On February 26, 2022

‘Summer of Soul’ brings Black History to life at Billings Farm & Museum

Saturday, Feb. 26 at 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. — WOODSTOCK — Black History comes to life in the celebrated film “Summer of Soul,” screening on Saturday, Feb. 26, as part of the Woodstock Vermont Film Series. Screenings take place at 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. in the Billings Farm & Museum Theater.

Courtesy Mass Distraction Media
“Summer of Soul”

In his acclaimed debut as a filmmaker, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson presents a powerful and transporting documentary that is part music film, part historical record created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture and fashion. “Summer of Soul” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award.

By way of intimate, newly restored footage, and recent interviews with attendees and the artists who performed, “Summer of Soul” documents the moment when the old school of the Civil Rights movement and new school of the Black Power movement shared the same stage, highlighted by an array of genres including soul, R&B, gospel, blues, jazz, and Latin.

The initial directive for the festival was laid out by the City of New York and emcee Tony Lawrence, a charismatic lounge singer and performer himself, to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination under the banner of Black unity. New York City had thrown smaller versions of The Harlem Cultural Festival in ’67 and ’68, though the smaller events felt more like casual, block parties. But the festival in 1969 was supersized.

New York City Mayor John Lindsay became a key backer of the festival. Television veteran Hal Tulchin was brought on to shoot six concerts that summer, inking a sponsorship deal with Maxwell House Coffee to finance the giant production.

Nearly overlapping with the 1969 Woodstock festival 100 miles away, the best-known Black artists and many more performed for over 300,000 people at a once-in-a-lifetime event. From June 29 to Aug. 24, the Harlem Cultural Festival played for six Sundays in Harlem’s Mount Morris Park. Unlike that other music festival upstate, the footage from the Harlem Cultural Festival could not find a home that summer of 1969, and instead sat in a basement for over 50 years, keeping this momentous celebration hidden until now.

The documentary includes never-before-seen concert performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, The 5th Dimension and more.  “Summer of Soul is both a tribute to the artists and, just as importantly, their audience, which is what makes it not just a great concert film but a great documentary, period.” – Rolling Stone

Reservations are strongly recommended as seating is limited. Masks and proof of vaccination are required. Purchase tickets and provide proof of vaccination in advance online at billingsfarm.org/filmseries or by phone at 802-457-5303 before noon on Friday. Tickets may be available for purchase at the Ticket Desk on the day of the film if seating allows.

Showing as part of the 12th Annual Woodstock Vermont Film Series, the film reflects Billings Farm & Museum’s vision to share place-based stories of people near and far, to engage our audiences, and to inspire conversations that increase connections with each other and our world.

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